Best Worst Year: Episode 64 (Or, Who is the Rain King?)

Her pour was deliberate, steady, practiced. A waitress’ story is written across her hands. Along her ring finger–a scar. Nail-bit red tips. Her Claddagh ring on a middle finger. The wrist tattoo of a star, faded and distant. Out here, in the tall shadows of an extinguished mining city, street lights obscure the sky. What isn’t washed out of the night time sky vanishes in the desperate echo of the track. A diner with a basement bar. Stained scarlet leather. Bar lights are smoke tarnished and you’re all the better for it. Upstairs it’s coffee in cheap mugs that never really come clean. When you leave, you see your waitress smoking behind the dumpster.
One stoplight towns limit your destinations when you’re not 21. You were never the cornfield drunk type. The 24 hour Dunkin’ Donuts. The hood of a car. A town park closed after dark. Picnic table poetry with girls you were too shy to know. A ballet dancer. Usually it started at a record store. 45 minute overtures of a life less lonely out beyond the town limits. Not a circus. Not a clique. Just a hope. Most nights ended in your bedroom. Headphones in the dark. Lou Reed or Alex Chilton or Tom Waits or Paul Westerberg or a myriad of chain smoking voices taking turns inking the wisdom of isolation and want into your spine.

The overhanging deck above passes for cover. You sit in the dark and listen for thunder. The first good midwestern downpour of the year. Weather is so different here. Gradual. Never sudden. You didn’t even have to be outside to anticipate it in your bones. There isn’t anywhere to truly go in this armchair city on a Wednesday night. The lack of escape no longer shakes you. You have learned to crawl inside of books and celluloid. You know where needles pass through you and conduit that is vinyl. Nights usually start in your office, wandering neighborhoods of wax. So much history. You toy with the autobiographical sorting of records. You are and are not that High Fidelity. You try to explain yourself in 140 characters or less. Your world clicks and taps beneath fingertips. Most nights, you flip the record, read yourself past tired to reach the back cover. Some nights, you wait for rain quietly. Tonight you wish you were smoke.

It can all be waiting. That’s the danger. You wait for a phone call. You order another drink. The room fills with strangers. It might as well fill with water. You drown at the end of the room, a rising sink into warm then blurry then hot then empty then another then warm then blurry then hot then empty then another then warm then blurry then hot then warm then blurry then hot then empty then another warm then blurry then hot then empty then another warm then blurry then hot then empty then another warm then blurry then there’s a song then hot then empty then another warm then blurry then hot then empty then another then warm then blurry then hot then empty then another then warm then blurry then hot then empty then another then warm then blurry then hot then you look at your phone then empty then another then warm then blurry then hot then empty then another then you look at your phone then warm then blurry then hot then empty then another then warm then blurry then hot then empty then another then warm then blurry then hot then empty then another warm then blurry then hot then empty then another warm then blurry then hot then empty then another then nothing then another then warm then blurry then hot then empty then another then warm then blurry then hot then empty then another then warm then blurry then hot then empty you look at your phone then another then warm then blurry then hot then empty then another then warm then blurry then hot then empty warm then blurry then hot then empty then another then warm then blurry then hot then empty then another then wait becomes weight then becomes weightless. Then.

His pour is desperate and familiar. Shaky but sturdy. This empty is as temporary as the fill and full. The doors have been locked. Lights flood in to fill shadow with a liar’s honesty. You breathe stale. A handful of you remain. Some nights you are all survivors. Most nights you are barely a witness. You will not go home. You will not end up with her–whatever name you wish to write into this part of the story. You will sleep on someone’s couch. Maybe you will use your coat for a pillow. Maybe you will not remember enough of this aftertaste in the morning. Maybe you will wake up after dark. A world in reverse. You will have everywhere to go but nowhere to be. The others crowd around a jukebox, a vending machine, and another empty familiar space. You can’t see the sky here either.

You tell her the ginkgo tree outside your office is in full blossom. You are up early enough to hear the poetry in a rustle of limbs. The world couldn’t be any smaller than it is right now and she knows it. The sun is cradled in the ginkgo’s reach. You’re pretty sure the lowest limb could hold you. Not that you need its proof.
_________________________
Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including The North American Review, PANK Magazine, Five Quarterly, and The Minnesota Review. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.

 

 

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